Sunday, 21 May 2017

Dirty Deeds on Downdene

Here is the opening to the second Cleo Marjoribanks murder mystery: 

There I was doing my vastly improved dog-paddle up and down the pool when the phone rang.  Yeah, I know that like all modern marvels it can answer itself but, I dunno, it sounded urgent.  I made it to the steps and clambered out, grabbed a towel and picked up the receiver as it was about to self respond.
“Queen of the Nile, how’re you doing?”
“Hi, Primrose.  I’m fine.  You?”
“Fine!  Fine!”  This was said airily and I grew suspicious of my crime journalist friend.
“Really?  So to what do I owe the honour of this call?”  A peal of laughter came down the wire and I held the receiver away from my ear so that she didn’t split me ear-drum.  Prim is a sweet girl, born on Primrose Day and as her surname’s Day, her parents got a bit carried away.  (Primrose Day?  19th April, the anniversary of the day Disraeli died and, as primroses were his favourite flowers Queen Victoria had the day so named in his memory).  When I first knew Prim her hair was braided and trimmed with hundreds of beads.  Noisy.  Now she’s got it short and curly.  Natural like.  She’s black, beautiful and works on one of the national dailies.
“Not much gets past you does it, Cleo?”
“At my size, ducks, no.  So, why are you calling?”
“Well, I hear lover boy’s got himself another murder to investigate.”
I frowned.  “Really?  How did you hear about this before me?”  Not fair.  David hadn't mentioned it.  That's DCI 'Steaming' Kettle and my lover.
“Contacts,” Prim responded succinctly.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, alright.  So what are you calling me about?”
“Thought you might have some idea about it, but as I’ve been the bearer of the news I guess you don’t know anything.”
“You guess right and I’m not going to get involved this time.”
“No, I’m sure you're not,” she said disbelievingly.
“I’m not,” I told her indignantly.
“Okay.  Don’t you want to know anything about it?”
Can’t keep my curiosity to myself can I?  My friends know me too well.  “Not really.”  I tried to match her earlier airy tone.
“Come off it, girl, course you do.”  Yeah, she’s also a cockney but it don’t come out as often as mine.
“You’re going ter tell me anyway, aren't you?”
She chuckled.  “Of course.”
“Go on then,” I urged as she kept me waiting.
“Seems like an estate agent dropped dead in his soup at some do in Lymington last night.”
“Oh?”  Definitely interesting.  So who had done for him?  A disgruntled client?  Someone who had been gazumped?
“Well, not exactly in the soup.  It was a bit later than that.  At the moment the cops aren’t calling it murder, just a sudden death which they have to investigate.  Seems strange to me that Steaming is in on it, though.  Doesn’t it?”
“Definitely.  Wonder what he was given?"  The victim I mean.  "In Lymington you said?”
“So I gather you’re on your way down here?”
She laughed again.  “Well, I've been told to come down there and thought it might be a good idea to visit you?”  Why was she querying it?  She knew I’d want her to stay here. “I thought I could stay in the house instead of the flat over the garage.  You know, keep you company while lover-boy is working.”
“What d’you mean, keep me company?”
“As they say in my job, if you ain’t got contacts, you ain’t got a job.  No point in not using them, is there?”  I could almost hear the smile.
“You win.  What time shall I expect you?”  We fixed an approximate time in the afternoon, then she asked, “What you doing?  Sounds as if you’re in the pool room.”
“I was just practicing.”
“Good girl.  I’ll give you some more lessons, if you like.”
“So that I can start powering up and down the pool the same way you do?”
That made her laugh.  “Sorry, Cleo, I don’t think you’d quite manage that.”
“I don’t think so either.  Anyway, see you later.”
I put the phone down and picked up me robe and put it on.  That was the end of my swimming practice for the day.  Time to go and shower and get dressed.  I should explain that the pool room was once a conservatory.  When I bought this place it was missing most of its glass and the plants had run wild. 
The house is a 1920s mock Tudor effort and the old girl who’d owned it before me kept cats and didn’t do no housework.  It was in a right sorry state.  Mind you, I did get it at a bargain price, but had to spend a lot to put it right.  It’s smashing now.  My bathroom’s got a spa bath and I’ve had another two rooms made into a guest suite and that’s also got a spa bath.  Got a thing about them, I have.  I've also got a 'community' one in the pool room and another in my flat in London.  And there's a flat over the double garage.  That's actually for a housekeeper but now I keep it as a 'guest suite'.  In the garage are my Land Rover and my precious Rolls Royce Silver Wraith.
I know it sounds daft, but do you know I actually got dressed before I made my next phone call?  I could have laid on the bed abso-bloody-lutely starkers and no one would have seen me and I admit that I’m not exactly a pretty sight when naked.  At least, I don’t think so.  Suppose I ought to tell you something about me.
The name’s Cleo Marjoribanks – pronounced Marchbanks as I often have to tell people who get it wrong.  People are never sure whether my hair is naturally red but my colouring is fair and I do freckle.  I leave it for you to decide!  And I tend to load on the paintwork, especially the eye-shadow which confounds people when it comes to the colour of my eyes.  You know, are they blue, are they grey or are they hazel?  Depends on the eye-shadow.  Me nose is straight and little on the large size and I have a very determined chin.  No, I'm not beautiful, but I think you could call it interesting.
I have to wear glasses when I’m driving because I’m short-sighted.  Not quite blind as a bat.  And I’m what’s called 'stately' so I go crazy with clothes.  Lots of caftans - they cover a multitude of sins.  And the regulatory strings of beads to wear with them.  The problem with them is that they catch on the most unlikely things.  Whoever is with me at the time usually ends up scrabbling on the ground trying to find the missing beads.  Because I’m well-endowed the beads won’t lie flat against me chest.

Kindle edition:
Paperback edition:

Thursday, 18 May 2017


Many years ago I saw a programme on television about women in the 1960s who had left their husbands. A very brave thing to do when the only 'Right' a woman in England had was the vote. There was something called the Married Women's Property Act which said women were entitled to 50% of the couple's 'property' but had to prove their had contributed 50% to the household. Bearing in mind that many married women didn't go out to work - or whose wages were miniscule - it was impossible to prove they had contributed 50%.

For a woman without children things were 'reasonably' simple to leave an abusive husband as she only had to fend for herself. But if there were children and the wife took them it was a whole other ball game.

In the television programme it was revealed that some of the women who took their children were subsequently deprived of them - either into care or custody was given to the husband. Many of these women ended up turning to drink and cigarettes and some, unfortunately, committed suicide. A few battled through and survived.

'A Favourite Aunt' is a novella about one of the survivors. Christina married in 1960 and it all went wrong from the beginning - no matter how hard she tried.

Please read this book - especially if you are a child (or grandchild) of such a disastrous marriage. You will then understand exactly what happened and why.

The book will shortly also be available in paperback.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Cosy, Thriller or Psychological?

As a writer of 'cosy' crime I can say - categorically - that there is nothing cosy about crime.

For some strange reason, a few years ago the term Cosy Crime was coined as a way of categorising Crime Novels that don't contain violence. Leaving those of us who write it rather puzzled. There are three basic categories in the crime genre:

CRIME - minimal violence, very little blood and gore. And - not necessarily a story about murder.

THRILLER - contains violence, blood and gore and bad language.

PSYCHOLOGICAL - pretty self-explanatory. Can include violence and bad language. Books on such 'subjects' as a woman (or anyone) in jeopardy.

West Sussex Libraries used to divide these books into two categories - Crime and Thriller. Then decided to shove them in together. Those of us who prefer one or the other complained but were unable to get the message across. Aren't librarians taught the difference between the genres?

And, of course, those of us who write so-called cosy crime are waiting for the day when someone devises a more sensible description! 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

English Spring

Following a few days of summer-like weather a couple of weeks ago we are now back to 'the big chill'. Even had snow in Scotland and the north of England. Unfortunately, the mini 'heat-wave' had people assuming that spring had arrived and summer couldn't be far away.

Oh dear, oh dear. Some are now busily unpacking their winter clothes!

A mistake I will never make because I can remember May 4th 1984. I had flown overnight from Florida and was standing on Gatwick station freezing! I had assumed that the weather wouldn't be THAT cold but had taken the precaution of wearing trousers and a jacket. I needed fur lined boots, thick sweater and a parka!

And I have photographs taken that week with people wearing their winter coats.

No good blaming the climate-change. English weather has always been erratic.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Who are the JC's?

Here is the opening to the third South Downs Murder Mystery, 'Who are the JC's?' I do hope you enjoy it and, of course, buy a copy! 


As Ruth Goldstein was helped by the waiter to take her seat at the table the gentleman on her left greeted her. 'Good evening,' and gave her a bright smile, his hazel eyes twinkling.
She returned his greeting, then concentrated on the menu. Eventually the table was full and the waiter took their orders, after which the eight diners introduced themselves.
Ruth, knowing from experience that they might never see each other again after this meal said, ruefully, 'I'm sorry, but I probably shan't remember your names.'
The lady on her right chuckled. 'Don't worry about it. None of us will.' She then lowered her voice, 'Bit of a waste of time really.'
'True,' Ruth agreed. 'But at least we don't have to wear name badges.'
'Now that would be truly awful. Like being on a school outing.'
The Wine Waiter reached their table and, after he had ordered a bottle, the man on Ruth's left turned to her. 'You don't drink?'
'No. Never have, although my late husband did.'
'I'm sorry to hear that he is no longer with you.'
'Thank you. He died four years ago. Your wife is not with you?'
'I'm divorced.'
'Oh dear. So many marriages seem to fail these days. I'm sorry, but what did you say your name is?'
He gave her one of his charming smiles. 'Don't worry about it. I'm Josh. Like you I am on my own on this cruise.'
'And you are retired?'
'Not really. I don't have what is called a day job. I work for myself and have staff to look after the business.'
Conversation ceased whilst they consumed the first course and Ruth looked around the table. Two couples she thought were probably in their mid to late sixties. Two ladies together. Sisters or friends? Probably in their seventies. Josh, wearing heavy gold rings on both hands, an expensive suit and silk tie, whom she thought was in his mid-sixties. Young enough to be her son. And she wondered what they all thought about her.
What they saw was a dumpy figure in a mid-range beige and green dress. Her short iron grey hair was well cut and showed her round face off to advantage. She had never worn much make-up and now that her sallow skin was wrinkled she wasn't tempted to overdo it.
Josh return to their conversation. 'I noticed that as you were being shown to the table a couple of waiters greeted you.'
'Yes, I've been on the Oriana before.'
'I guessed that. This is my first time. I usually go on Cunard but thought I would try P&O for a change.'
Conversation then became more general until coffee when they discussed what they had chosen to do that evening.
'What are your plans, Ruth? Going to see the show?' Josh asked.
She shook her head. 'Not tonight. I'm very tired. I'll have a read and an early night.'
'So you will be fresh to begin your cruise tomorrow. Very wise. Where would you advise for breakfast?'
'This dining room. The Peninsular,' she reminded him of its name.
'So I might see you in the morning.'
At that point there was movement around the table as the diners prepared to leave.

'Milly, I am so lucky to have met such a nice gentleman,' eighty-three-year old Ruth Goldstein told her younger friend as they sat at the kitchen table in Milly's kitchen on a dull September morning.
'It certainly sounds like it. Very nice to have a bit of company. How lucky he was on your table the first night.'
'Wasn't it?' Ruth was recently back from her latest cruise. Since the death of her husband she had taken to cruising in a big way. 'You know I love my cruises. I get to meet some really delightful people, see places I've never seen before. And, of course, there's my dancing.'
Milly Stewart had met Ruth and her husband, Reuben, at the Assembly Rooms where they and other friends went regularly to the ballroom dances. Following a few months of mourning Ruth had been persuaded back to dancing. 'They have dancing every evening on board?'
'Most evenings. Even if the dance hosts aren't there, there is some music playing for us.'
'Which ship was this one?' Milly couldn't keep up with the ship's names. All she could remember was P&O and Cunard.
'The Oriana. My favourite. It has a proper ballroom. Some of the other ships I've been on have dancing in the Atrium which isn't very nice.'
Milly decided not to go there. She had heard Ruth's complaints several times before. 'So tell me about your gentleman friend.'
Ruth tittered. 'I wouldn't call him that. After all he is about twenty years younger than me. Very smart. He's retired,' (which makes him at least sixty-three Milly thought), 'but he does own some property that he rents out.'
'So he's well heeled.'
Ruth leant across the table and whispered, 'He's a millionaire.'
'Really?' As they were in Milly's kitchen she wondered why her friend had whispered the words.
'Yes. And so generous. On one of the Dress Nights. You know, posh frocks and dinner jackets,' she expanded at Milly's puzzled look, 'he bought champagne for dinner.' The old lady sat back with a satisfied smile, her brown eyes twinkling.
'Very nice.' Not being a lover of champers Milly didn't know what else to say. And as she knew Ruth didn't drink alcohol wondered why buying a bottle of fizzy wine was such a big deal.
'And before we got off the ship he bought me this.' She pulled a gold chain from under her jumper.
'That's lovely, Ruth. Must have cost quite a bit.'
'Probably. He wouldn't buy rubbish.'
'You didn't choose it?'

'No, it was a total surprise.' But she didn't confess to having bought Josh a parting gift of his favourite aftershave.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Antiques in the Attic - Part 1

This is the first book in the South Downs Murder Mysteries. Unlike the Cleo books it is written in third person and involves police procedural. Hope you enjoy it - and, of course, buy a copy. It is not only available on Kindle but also in paperback (from Amazon).

"Did you get them?"
"You know where they are?"
"It's like this, mate, 'e didn't tell us nuffin'."
"You said he would."
"Well 'e didn't."
"You'd better try again."
"Bit difficult."
"Better you don't know at the mo, but I got n'idea where they are."

Not another wet and dreary day, Sarah groaned as she drew the curtains and viewed the bedraggled garden.
And she should be feeling happy.  The divorce was over, she was free and Kevin was paying her maintenance.  And so he should, she and her friends agreed, some pointing out that he was lucky they didn't have any children.
But at least I'd have some company and something useful to do, she mournfully mused as she went downstairs to get breakfast.  Should she have it in the kitchen or take it back to bed?  It was Sunday, the shopping done, the house clean and no chance of gardening.  Bed, she decided, gathering up from the front door the heavy bundle that made up the Sunday paper and putting it on the stairs - it was too heavy to throw up to the landing.
Whilst waiting for the coffee to drip her thoughts turned to Kevin and his reaction when she had told him a few months ago that she wanted a divorce.

"But why?" he whined, a sorrowful look in his sky blue eyes.  Eyes that she had once thought were beautiful.  "We're doing alright.  We're both working, have this nice house and a car.  And money in savings."
"What else do we have?" she asked, glaring across the table at him."We work, we come home, eat, watch telly and go to bed.  We never do anything else."
"But when we've got enough money saved we can start a family.  We always said that."
"Kevin, that was six years ago and I can't remember when we last made love," she expostulated.  Looking at his mean mouth and cold blue eyes she wondered now what she had ever seen in him. 
He turned away awkwardly and cleared his throat.  Why on earth did this married man in his thirties always get embarrassed when sex was mentioned, she wondered.

(Oh yes, her closest friend and confidante, Zelda, had a theory or two.  One was that Kev was impotent and the other that he was a latent homosexual.  But then Zel always had theories about people.)

"Look, er, well," Kevin began as he looked out of the window at the garden, "I can move into one of the other bedrooms.  Yes, that's what I'll do," he added more decisively as he turned to look at her.
"Kev, I don't think that is going to solve our problems."
"But we get on okay and are good friends."
"Is that what we are?  Good friends?"
"Of course."
She shook her head, her loose long brown hair swinging in a way he used to like.  Or, at least, had said that he did.  "You really don't get it, do you?"
"Get what?"
"I'm bored.  B-O-R-E-D."
He looked puzzled.  "How can you be bored?  I'm here every evening and weekends."
"Kevin Stewart I would like to do things other than a boring office job, come home and cook a meal, wash up, then sit and watch television programmes in which I have absolutely no interest whatsoever."
"But you read," he whined.  "Perhaps that's why you're bored."
"Grrr.  Reading is the only thing that keeps me sane.  I'm sick of doing a boring job, housework, cooking and cleaning up," she reiterated.  "You don't do anything about the house to help."
"But I'm working all week."
She had slammed out of the room.

I must get a new toaster, she reflected as she buttered the almost singed bread.
Carefully carrying mug and plate she went to the stairs, realised the newspaper was too bulky to fit under her arm so went on upstairs without it.  She'd read it later.
The rain was still pouring down.  Obviously this was turning into a typical English summer.  Sarah sighed and returned to her book.  Might as well have a longer lie-in.  Now she was on her own she could please herself.  No more whining and whingeing from he who should be obeyed.  She put down her book.  "I can change my job and get a career," she told the walls.  Why had she only just thought of that?  Probably because she'd had too much else on her mind, she ruefully reflected.
The telephone interrupted her contemplation of a future career.  "Hello."
"Hope you're sitting down," Zelda responded .
Sarah chuckled, "I'm still in bed and thinking about finding a career."
"Hold that thought.  I haven't got much time.  Gotta go to the grandparents' for lunch.  Have you got the radio on?"
"No, I'm just enjoying the silence."
"So you won't have heard."
"Heard what?"
"First of all, what car does Kev drive?"
"Not sure but I think Milly said he'd bought a Ford Focus."  Milly being Kevin's mother with whom Sarah had a good relationship.
"Oh dear."
"Why?  What's happened?"
"According to the local news a man has been found dead in his car on the Downs not far from Findon.  It’s a Ford Focus."
"Do you know how many men drive a Focus?"
"Not a lot.  It's supposed to be recognised as a woman's car," Zelda responded dryly, "but I've seen a lot of men driving them.  But what if he's committed suicide…."
"Not Kev.  First off, he hasn't the guts and, secondly, he loves himself too much."
"But his Dad died of cancer."
"So what does that have to do with anything?  They didn't particularly get on.  Too much alike," Sarah added dryly.
"Yeah, but he might have thought he had cancer and what with the divorce and then his Mum not taking him in….."
"Nope.  He might have been upset about losing his housekeeper but he'll hope to soon find a replacement.  What he doesn't realise is that there aren't that many gullible women out there."
"Especially when it comes to a divorced man."
"Exactly, but I’m sure he's got his sob story worked out."
"Whatever.  By the way, why wouldn't his Mum have him back?  Seen sense?"
"She has a gentleman friend."
"Good for her."
"Yes.  He looks after her and takes her dancing.  And he's persuaded her to go on a cruise with him."
"Oh, wow.  You always liked her didn't you?"
"We get on really well.  She was dead chuffed when I told her I was getting a divorce.  Told me it was the best thing I could do as the Stewart men weren't known for changing their attitudes."
"Bet Kev didn't like it when she refused to let him move in."
"I'm sure.  Plus it must have been a shock to find out about George.  I hadn't told him."
Zelda laughed.  "I would have loved to have seen his face when he found out."
"Me too.  Apparently, when he turned up on her doorstep with his laden car, George opened the door."
"Well played!"
"I thought so.  It was a good idea because then Kevin couldn't bully his way in.  Had to go to a hotel."
"Did he tell you this?"
"Of course not.  Milly told me.  He told me he wouldn't stay with her until that man had gone.  What he doesn't know is that George doesn't live there."
They laughed then Zelda remembered she was in a hurry and they rang off.

Sarah was destined not to have a longer lie in as, no sooner had she picked up her book again, than the front door bell pealed.  She got out of bed to look out of the window.  A strange car.


Monday, 13 February 2017

Homicide in Hampshire, Part 1.

Welcome to the opening paragraphs of the first Cleo Marjoribanks book, 'Homicide in Hampshire'. I love the art of creation and especially enjoy writing about Cleo. Mind you, after five books, I think it is a case of Cleo telling me what to write!

I hope you enjoy this snippet enough to buy the book - either on Kindle or paperback (via Amazon). And don't forget to give it a great review! For that you will always be a friend.

I snatched up the phone in the pool room (using me skirt to hold it, of course.  No point in reading mystery novels and doing it all wrong), all the while staring at the thing in the pool.  It had to be Janet Spencer.  It was wearing her dress.  And there was red in the water.  I knew she was dead and, while talking to the police, I wondered how I was so sure she was dead.  I know I should have jumped into the pool to get her out and begin resuscitation but…  The thought of what I might see made me gaga, so I scarpered, at least as best me high-heels would let me!  (As I can’t swim, it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea anyway.)
I shot off straight down the hall, grabbed handbag and keys from the table near the door then scrabbled with the door locks.  Why are they always a problem when you’re in a hurry?  At last I was out in the night air and could take deep breaths. 
And don’t ask me why I was in the pool room when I’d just come home.  If you walk indoors and see lights on that shouldn’t be on what would you do?  No, not what I should have done – panicked.  I went to investigate.  Course it wasn’t until later that I realised I’d been stupid.
It felt like I was standing outside for ages before I heard the cops arrive.  Blue light flashing and siren moaning, just like a sick cow.
The car pulled up in front where I was leaning against the wall by the open front door.
One of the coppers eased his bulk from the car “Constable Brown,” was the terse introduction.  “Are you alright, madam?  Are you Mrs. Marj-or-ibanks?”
“Pronounced Marchbanks,” I corrected automatically.  “I think I’m alright.  Yeah, I called.”  I moved away from the wall and pointed into the house.  “Down there, all the way to the end is the pool room.  She’s in the pool.”
He went in, at the same time indicating to the other – younger - man who was also now out of the car, to stay with me.  Did they think that if they left me there alone I might get into their car and escape?

.............................  -  Kindle - Paperback.